NBA free agency: Top centers on the market

INDIANAPOLIS, INDIANA - APRIL 01: Nic Claxton #33 of the Brooklyn Nets dunks the ball in the second quarter against the Indiana Pacers at Gainbridge Fieldhouse on April 01, 2024 in Indianapolis, Indiana. NOTE TO USER: User expressly acknowledges and agrees that, by downloading and or using this photograph, User is consenting to the terms and conditions of the Getty Images License Agreement. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Nic Claxton is the best big man on the market. (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images) (Dylan Buell via Getty Images)

While the crop of centers in this year’s free agent class doesn’t consist of Tier 1 talent, it does have depth and a wide variety of vastly different players who can fill different roles.

Defensive-oriented shot-blockers, inside scorers, excellent rebounders, hustle players and 3-point shooters — this list has it all, which further underlines how vast a transformation the center position has undergone over the past decade.

This year's top free agents: point guards | shooting guards | small forwards | power forwards

Status: unrestricted free agent
2023-24 salary: $9,625,000
2023-24 digits: 11.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists

It's not often you find a 25-year-old center on the market who is both unrestricted and a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate. However, that is the case with Claxton, who finds himself in the position of having control over his own destiny.

The two-way menace is extremely agile and only scratching the surface of the nuances of interior defense. As good as he is already, he's bound to improve further, given his work ethic and the fact that centers tend to take longer to reach their full potential.

He's likely going to cost a lot to acquire — or retain, if you're the Nets. While centers have taken a contractual hit in recent years, Claxton's combination of age, game influence, skill and plug-and-play capability could see him break that pattern.

Status: unrestricted free agent
2023-24 salary: $9,245,121
2023-24 digits: 11.8 points, 9.9 rebounds and 2.1 assists

When Hartenstein signed with the Knicks two years ago, he signed for far less than his current value, meaning it'll be difficult for the Knicks to keep him because they have only his early Bird rights and can't pay him whatever they want.

Has Hartenstein played himself out of New York's price range? Potentially. If no other major offer materializes, perhaps he could persuade himself to go back to New York and keep the party going.

Hartenstein is a rock-solid defender, elite rebounder, underrated playmaker from the high post and is more than just a lob threat. His ability to find the right spot and even manufacture his own chances are all reasons why teams should be tracking him this summer.

Status: unrestricted free agent
2023-24 salary: $15,435,000
2023-24 digits: 12.2 points, 8.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists

It's already been reported the Pelicans are going in a different direction, meaning Valančiūnas is going to have to find a new home.

Who needs an interior scorer who is also an elite rebounder? Probably quite a few teams, assuming, of course, they can persuade the Lithuanian big man to come off the bench.

At 32 and not a strong defensive presence, now seems like a good time for Valančiūnas to pivot to the bench, which opens up an interesting door of possibilities with potential contenders being in play — if he's willing to play a different kind of ball.

Status: unrestricted free agent
2023-24 salary: $3,360,000
2023-24 digits: 8.4 points, 9 rebound and 0.5 assists

In recent years, Drummond has come off the bench. He's made the pivot that Valančiūnas is on the threshold of. However, Drummond's impact could be viewed as starting caliber-worthy through the proper lens.

As his generation's best rebounder and one of the best of all time in that department, Drummond is elite on the offensive glass (3.4 in 17.1 minutes this year), which will give highly potent offensive teams more bites at the apple.

Drummond's ability to step into the starting lineup, which is a familiar concept to him, is an added luxury in case a team suffers a few big-men-related injuries. He should have a strong market.

Status: unrestricted free agent (player option)
2023-24 salary: $5,417,386
2023-24 digits: 9.9 points, 5.5 rebounds and 1 assist

There's no other way to say this: On a per-minute production basis, Smith is up there as one of the most impressive young big men in the league. That doesn't mean he doesn't have his warts. He averaged 17.2 minutes for a reason.

But he'll give teams potent offensive production, a steady presence on the glass, 3-point shooting and a high conversion rate near the rim, all wrapped into a strong, physical 24-year-old body.

Some team might see more in him than a bench guy, especially at his age, so it isn't out of the realm of possibility that a club could sign him with the idea of building him into a starter. Of course, a prospective team needs to consider if his numbers were partly inflated from playing in Indiana's high-paced offense.

Status: restricted free agent
2023-24 salary: $4,379,527
2023-24 digits: 7.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 1.3 assists

While he never broke out as some people believed he would, Achiuwa is a rock-solid big man to come off the bench. He's versatile, can play a position down next to another center and help on the glass.

If he ever gets a handle on that 3-point shot, which he hasn't so far, his value is going to skyrocket, as teams will be able to use him in far more sets.

For now, he's a ball of energy and one who is steadily building a reliable floor game on top of his enthusiastic play. It's difficult to see a team break the bank for him, and the Knicks do have the right to match. If Hartenstein is signed by someone else, keeping Achiuwa becomes a far bigger priority.

Status: restricted free agent
2023-24 salary: $12,119,440
2023-24 digits: 7.1 points, 5.3 rebounds and 0.9 assists

Look, the trade to Detroit never made sense, and it didn't help his development whatsoever. That leaves him in a weird position going into free agency.

If the Pistons allow him to become an unrestricted free agent, which shouldn't be ruled out, he could take a one-year deal at a place where he knows he'll get minutes and then try the market again next year.

Alternatively, he could sign a longer deal, if offered, and hope he'll get a chance to prove himself during the length of said contract. He's young, athletic and in dire need of a situation in which he's given a real shot.

Mo Wagner, Orlando Magic

Status: unrestricted free agent (team option)

Offensive-minded big man who scores a ton of points efficiently. Would likely want to stick around the same team his younger brother is on.

Xavier Tillman, Boston Celtics

Status: unrestricted free agent

Underrated young big man who moves the ball, is a decent defender and comes with some scoring upside. Boston would surely love to keep him, if he's willing.

Daniel Theis, Los Angeles Clippers

Status: unrestricted free agent

Veteran center who has always been consistent on both sides of the floor. Very mistake-free. Contenders can always use someone like him on the bench.

Kevin Love, Miami Heat

Status: unrestricted free agent (player option)

We're coming to the end of Love's impressive career, but until he's firmly out, he's going to give you 3-point shooting and rebounding.